If you listen carefully, you are likely to hear ROI popping up with increasing frequency in marketing circles. Not, however, ROI in its all-too-familiar procurement and financial sense, but in a completely new sense: Return on Inclusion – the value of diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I). DE&I are already high on the agenda for HR directors and company leaders because of the increasing scientific evidence of their positive impact on corporate culture*. With CEOs championing DE&I and HR departments busy making changes in their organisations, marketing leaders are now starting to turn their attention and focus in the same direction, towards the changing wants and needs of their consumers due to DE&I.

What is ‘Return on Inclusion’ (ROI) and why is it important?

Return on Inclusion ranges from how an organisation’s culture can become more inclusive, to value-building campaigns and creative ideas that address discrimination and prejudice. It’s not a novelty to see brands who stand for a social cause, however, there is a new wave of brands (big and small) putting inclusive creative ideas at the forefront of their thinking.  Brands are turning to a different way of connecting with their customers by establishing meaningful connections between the brand’s offering and a greater impact in society.

Why is inclusion important for commercial functions? 

As marketing category managers will know, this isn’t a spend category where typical cost cutting techniques can be applied in a straightforward manner. There may be great opportunities in joining forces between commercial and marketing teams on DE&I; procurement can drive additional value when they act as proactive leaders of a cross-functional team, championing and advancing the overall inclusion agenda.

Today this may simply be a new way of looking at the creative ideation process, but in time (and with the help of procurement), each aspect of diversity, equity & inclusion can filter through the entire marketing value chain. We will be looking at incorporating this new ROI into criteria on scorecards for agency selection, leveraging them as performance KPIs and making them part of collaborative Supplier Relationship Management practices.

What should category managers and procurement teams do differently?
  1. Be aware of the importance of Return on Inclusion and understand its importance in the organisation, particularly for marketing teams.
  2. Make sure diversity criteria are included and understood in an agency selection process.
  3. Never underestimate the importance of relationships with stakeholders (both within your organisation and with agency) to the delivery of real business value from your marketing spend – this is the only way to stay ahead in the ever-changing universe of brand and consumer.


At 4C we are proud to be working closely together with our clients’ teams: becoming part of their business; gaining deep understanding of their strategy and their challenges; and providing practical solutions that make an impact on both society and our client’s bottom line. If you would like to learn more about our Service Offering and how we have helped other companies, please get in touch – we’re always happy to share thoughts, and learn from you in turn.  Please contact me, Eszter Farkas, Manager (Eszter.Farkas@4cassociates.com) or Gavin Bowen-Ashwin, Partner (Gavin.Bowen-Ashwin@4cassociates.com).

*Sources: Michael Couch, Organizational Psychologist in Forbes magazine; Harvard Business Review, https://hbr.org/2020/11/getting-serious-about-diversity-enough-already-with-the-business-case